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The second salvo in the IPCC countdown - Roy Spencer

By Don Aitkin - posted Thursday, 26 September 2013


I've mentioned Roy Spencer before. He is the leader of the satellite monitoring of global temperature, and is a Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. He is well-published indeed, and has a special award for his work from the American Meteorological Society. He also runs a website that I find myself going to again and again, though it's not on my blogroll (time I revised it), and in October he has a new paper coming out on climate sensitivity, which he mentions below. He starts this way.

I usually don't comment on recently published climate research papers, partly because they rarely add much, and partly because other blogs do a pretty good job of covering them anyway. The reason why I say "they rarely add much" is that there are a myriad of theories that can be justified with some data, but rarely is the evidence convincing enough to hang your hat on them.

One of the things I've learned in the climate research business is that it is really easy to be wrong, and really difficult to be right. There are many competing theories of what causes climate change, and they can't all be correct.

But recent events are quite exceptional. A few recent papers on climate sensitivity, and on the previously under-appreciated role of natural climate variations, and the apparent backing-off by the IPCC on climate sensitivity in the upcoming AR5 report, now warrants a few comments from me. (We also have our own paper, slated to be published on October 31, which will present new results on climate sensitivity and the role of natural climate variations in recent warming.)

For the last 10-20 years or more, a few of us have been saying that the IPCC has been ignoring the elephant in the room … that the real climate system is simply not as sensitive to CO2 emissions as they claim. Of course, the lower the climate sensitivity, the less of a problem global warming and climate change becomes.

This elephant has had to be ignored at all costs. What, the globe isn't warming from manmade CO2 as fast as we predicted? Then it must be manmade aerosols cooling things off. Or the warming is causing the deep ocean to heat up by hundredths or thousandths of a degree. Any reason except reduced climate sensitivity, because low climate sensitivity might mean we really don't have to worry about global warming after all. And, if that's the case, the less relevant the IPCC becomes. Not good if your entire professional career has been invested in the IPCC…

[I]t's been nearly 20 years since Al Gore privately blamed us (now, the UAH satellite temperature dataset) for the failure of his earliest attempt at CO2 legislation. Multiple attempts at carbon legislation have failed. The lack of understanding of basic economic principles on the part of politicians and scientists alike led to the unrealistic expectation that humanity would allow the lifeblood of the global economy - inexpensive energy - to be restricted…

But, I digress. My main point is that nothing stands in the way of a popular theory (e.g. global warming) better than failed forecasts. We are now at the point in the age of global warming hysteria where the IPCC global warming theory has crashed into the hard reality of observations . A few of us are not that surprised, as we always distrusted the level of faith that climate modelers had in their understanding of the causes of climate change.

I continue to suspect that, in the coming years, scientists will increasingly realize that more CO2 in the atmosphere is, on the whole, good for life on Earth. Given that CO2 is necessary for life, and that nature continues to gobble up 50% of the CO2 we produce as fast as we can produce it, I won't be that surprised when that paradigm shift occurs, either.

(The emphasis is the second-last paragraph is in the original.)

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For Roy Spencer the key element in all this is 'climate sensitivity', the extent to which the whole climate system responds to an increase in carbon dioxide. He is one of those who thinks that the sensitivity is no more, or not much more, than the straightforward response of 1.1 degrees Celsius for a doubling of the gas. For Ross McKitrick, yesterday, the real issue is the failure of the models to predict the pause in the warming. If they can't get that right, of what use are they?

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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, What Was It All For? The Reshaping of Australia was published by Allen & Unwin.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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